Michael Cray is playing a dangerous game. Pretending to give his allegiance to the Wild Storm universe’s mad Diana Prince, while secretly working with a psychotic John Constantine to foil her plan to bring back the old Greek gods so that Constantine will help him deal with the sentient tumour in his head, which is a course of action that places him directly at odds with his boss Christine Trelane, Cray’s got not only a game within a game to consider but also an opponent embedded within his own mind. To say that he’s got his work cut out is an understatement. The fact that the stakes include not only Cray’s personal well-being but the fate of the entire world only makes the game that more intriguing. Throw in the enigmatic Dr Shahi and Cray’s erstwhile ‘team’ and there’s enough going on here to make your head spin. It’s a good job that writer Bryan Hill knows what he’s doing, then, isn’t it?
Last issue ended with Cray kneeling and swearing allegiance to Diana Prince and, after a short scene featuring Dr Shahi in an airport (more of her in a moment), this issue carries on from that somewhat unsettling image with a conversation in which Diana touches on her motivation and general plan for bringing back the old Greek gods in a ceremony that will enable them to wipe away man’s ‘weakness’. This section is probably the weakest in the issue. Diana is here primarily to explain her reasons for hiring (rather than killing) Cray and gives some background that we already know in the process. The crucial issues of whether her plan will work and just how mad she really is are raised but not resolved, which is fair enough, I suppose. This is a series that has already given us a genetically enhanced Arthur Curry whose belief in his Atlantean heritage was observably false. The possibility of Diana’s beliefs actually being true is tantalising, but I think something else might be going on here. We shall, as always, have to see.
We don’t see Diana again for the rest of the issue. Instead, Hill spends the time moving a number of pieces into play and, through Constantine, giving us a little more insight into the mechanics of Diana’s plan. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this issue, in fact, is the characterisation of Constantine. His confrontation with Cray is well-scripted and engaging, as, for that matter, is the tumour’s brief (and rather one-sided) conversation with Cray later on.
The rest of the issue is concerned with Cray’s former team first meeting up with Shahi before tracking Cray down so they can talk to him and offer him their services again in defiance of Christine Trelane’s orders. This would have been more effective if we’d had a stronger sense of these characters and their motivations in the previous issues but, as it is, it falls a little flat, although it does move the plot on well enough. With Cray having gained allies and the chance to strategize with them, there’s a very real sense of purpose and… competence building which is shockingly undermined by the issue’s final page. Given this instalment’s more leisurely dialogue-centric approach, this ending does a good job of setting up issue 10 and, as has been the case more often than not these last few issues, I very much want to find out what happens next.
Although Hill’s script is engaging and erudite (the Homer quotation is apt and the inclusion of a character named after an early 20th century theosophist is a rather nice touch too), the sense that this is an issue primarily concerned with setting things up for later is inescapable. N Steven Harris has less to get his teeth into this time around action-wise and the focus on character interaction does not play to his strengths. That said, this is still an intriguing book and the feeling that it’s heading towards a more satisfying conclusion than we had a right to expect four issues ago is palpable.
A somewhat talky issue that is more concerned with setting up the series’ finale than anything else, this nevertheless manages to intrigue and entertain and that’s in no small part due to Hill’s skill with characterisation and dialogue. While Cray’s team remains somewhat anaemic (Victoria continues to shine, mind you), Hill’s Constantine is charming, brave and psychotic in more or less equal measure. The title character’s journey between the Scylla of Diana Prince’s mad plan to destroy half the world and the Charybdis of his own talking tumour-induced torment is also compelling stuff. N Steven Harris’ art continues to be somewhat underwhelming, but this is still a comic book that’s worth your time.